The dirty past of the Tour de France came back on Friday to haunt the 100th edition of cyclings showcase race,with Lance Armstrong telling a newspaper he couldnt have won without doping.
Armstrongs interview with Le Monde was surprising on many levels,not least because of his long-antagonistic relationship with the respected French daily that first reported in 1999 that corticosteroids were found in the Americans urine as he was riding his way to the first of his seven Tour wins. In response,Armstrong complained he was being persecuted by vulture journalism,desperate journalism.
Now seemingly prepared to let bygones be bygones,Armstrong told Le Monde he still considers himself the record-holder for Tour victories,even though all seven of his titles were stripped from him last year for doping.
He also said his life has been ruined by the US Anti-Doping Agency investigation that exposed as lies his years of denials that he and his teammates doped.
The interview was the latest blast from cyclings doping-tainted recent history to rain on the 100th Tour.
Not surprising in Armstrongs interview was his claim that it was impossible to win the Tour without doping when he was racing. Armstrong already told US television talk show host Oprah Winfrey when he finally confessed this January that doping was just part of the job of being a pro cyclist.
The banned hormone erythropoietin,or EPO,wasnt detectable by cyclings doping controls until 2001 and so was widely abused because it prompts the body to produce oxygen-carrying red blood cells,giving a big performance boost to endurance athletes.
Armstrong was clearly talking about his own era,rather than the Tour today. Le Monde reported that he was responding to the question: When you raced,was it possible to perform without doping?
That depends on which races you wanted to win. The Tour de France? No. Impossible to win without doping. Because the Tour is a test of endurance where oxygen is decisive, Le Monde quoted Armstrong as saying. It published the interview in French.
Some subsequent media reports about Le Mondes interview concluded that Armstrong was saying doping is still necessary now,rather than when he was winning the Tour from 1999-2005. That suggestion provoked dismay from current riders,race organizers and the sports governing body,the International Cycling Union or UCI.
If hes saying things like he doesnt think that its possible to win the Tour clean,then he should be quiet – because it is possible, said American rider Tejay van Garderen of the BMC team.
Asked later by The Associated Press to clarify his comments,Armstrong said on Twitter that he was talking about the period from 1999-2005. He indicated that doping might not be necessary now.
Today? I have no idea. Im hopeful its possible, he tweeted.
In a statement issued before that clarification,UCI President Pat McQuaid called the timing of Armstrongs comments very sad.
I can tell him categorically that he is wrong. His comments do absolutely nothing to help cycling, McQuaid said in a statement. ”The culture within cycling has changed since the Armstrong era and it is now possible to race and win clean.
Riders and teams owners have been forthright in saying that it is possible to win clean – and I agree with them.